By JAY REEVES
Associated Press Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The nation’s largest utility can dump millions of tons of coal ash from a Tennessee spill into an Alabama landfill, federal regulators said Thursday, despite criticism that the plan is unfair to one of Alabama’s poorest counties.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it would let the Tennessee Valley Authority ship dredged material about 300 miles from the site of a huge retention pond failure in eastern Tennessee to the Arrowhead Landfill in central Alabama’s Perry County.
EPA said the commercial landfill that most often receives household garbage is well-suited for accepting the ash, which contains toxic materials including arsenic and lead.
TVA said the shipments, which will go by rail, would begin immediately.
A rail line runs from Tennessee through northeast Alabama to Arrowhead Landfill near Uniontown. Operators say it’s one of the nation’s largest commercial landfills.
Perry County will make millions of dollars off the shipments from dumping fees, and TVA has said as many as 50 jobs could be created to handle the shipments at the landfill, which now has five full-time employees.
But opponents of the plan accuse TVA of unjust dumping on the people of a rural and mainly black county, where U.S. Census statistics show 31 percent of families live in poverty. Uniontown has about 1,600 residents, 88 percent of whom are black.
“We still feel that there are elements that seem like an injustice to the people of Perry County,” said Michael Churchman, executive director of the Alabama Environmental Council. “The benefits of the new jobs and increased income to families in that county is not as significant as it’s being portrayed to be.”
The $45 million landfill is permitted to receive wastes from 17 states east of the Mississippi River. EPA said the landfill meets all technical requirements specified by federal and state regulations.
“The landfill is permitted to accept waste materials such as coal ash and has the capacity to accommodate the anticipated volume of material,” EPA said in a statement.
TVA has said it wants to use the landfill to dispose of about 3 million cubic yards of coal ash that was released when a dike burst at a plant at Kingston, Tenn., in December. The coal ash bound for Alabama is being dredged from the Emory River.
About 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash was released in all, but TVA hasn’t said what it plans to do with the rest. The utility said it was looking for sites other than the Perry County landfill, which typically accepts household garbage.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has given TVA permission to conduct coal ash disposal tests at four landfills in eastern Tennessee, but a TVA spokesmen said the agency has no current plans to do so.
Pennsylvania officials already have rejected TVA inquiries into using Pennsylvania landfills. TVA officials said they weren’t interested in the Pennsylvania landfills anyway since they weren’t lined.
EPA spokeswoman Davina Marraccini said the utility hasn’t sought permission to dispose of the Kingston coal ash anywhere other than Perry County.
The coal ash contains at least 14 heavy metals and other hazardous compounds, documents show. Environmental regulators in Alabama said they would allow the shipments because tests showed the toxins were present in low concentrations that aren’t considered hazardous.
TVA’s disposal plan said it would initially send 85 loaded railcars every two days to Alabama, and shipments of the same size would become daily within weeks. The disposal could take a year.
Churchman said the trains would probably pass though metropolitan Birmingham, Alabama’s most heavily populated area, which is about 100 miles north of the landfill.
“How many people know that those 35,000 rail cars are likely going to come right through Birmingham?” he said. “I don’t think all these kinds of things have been factored in yet.”
TVA provides power to nearly 9 million consumers through 158 distributors in Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Associated Press writer Duncan Mansfield in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
By JAY REEVES